Tulane University hosted 3 Super Bowl games: IV in 1970, VI in 1972, and IX in 1975. The crowds of 80,000+ people never knew that underneath the bleachers tucked in a storage room were two Egyptian mummies. Theirs was a lurid story.
George Robbins Gliddon (1809-1857) was the former US vice consul in Egypt. He fashioned himself an Egyptologist and assembled the “Gliddon’s Transparent Panorama of the Nile” exhibit that traveled the United States in the mid-1800s. The panorama was a beautifully illustrated painting that measured 900 feet long and 9 feet high. Gliddon was a master salesman and signed up subscribers who funded his traveling show. These subscribers attended mummy unwrapping parties, where Gliddon unwrapped a mummy and displayed any funerary items contained within the coffins.
While in Boston, Gliddon, who prided himself on his ability to translate hieroglyphics, misidentified one of the mummies. He claimed that the mummy contained in the case was a female of noble lineage. He claimed she was a high priestess or of that level. Unfortunately, upon the reveal, the mummy was most certainly a male. His erect penis had been carefully wrapped. Gliddon talked himself out of this uncomfortable situation and planned his exit from the field. He shortened his traveling itinerary, making New Orleans his final stop.
Gliddon arrived in March of 1852. He opened his show at Tulane University. He unwrapped the second mummy, that of a female, at what is now Gallier Hall. When the show closed, Gliddon donated the mummies to Tulane. He attempted to sell the vast panorama, even suggesting it be divided into 50-foot sections; however, it probably didn’t sell. There aren’t any records as to its fate. Thanks to Tulane’s football stadium’s demolition, we now know what happened to the two mummies.
Tulane’s former stadium was a popular venue. The Third Tulane Stadium, as it was known, was built in 1926 with a capacity of 35,000. Four expansions followed with capacity reaching 80,985 in 1955. On July 17, 1976, ZZ Top performed to a raucous audience which led to the university banning all concerts inside the stadium. (The ban remains in effect) The stadium became known as the Sugar Bowl, based on its form as resembling a sugar bowl lid, and the Queen of Southern Stadiums. Professional and college football teams played there up until 1979.
Sections of the stadium were declared unsafe, and demolition commenced on November 18, 1979. Demolition finished in June of 1980. It was during the early stages of demolition that the mummies were discovered ensconced in glass cases sitting above their coffins.
The mummies were displayed initially in a museum at the university’s medical school. Next stop was the museum of natural history in Gibson Hall. That museum closed in 1955, and the mummies were placed into storage, underneath the stadium. Somehow, they ended up at a Charity Hospital museum and then to a physician’s home. (Not sure I would take them home) They were then placed back in storage until their discovery. They were kept in the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library basement until 1979, when they relocated to their final resting place: Dinwiddie Hall in the Department of Anthropology.
University professors, along with graduate students, have learned a lot about the mummies. The male’s case had his name inscribed. It is often written as Djed-Thoth-iu-ef-ankh or “Thoth says that he will live.” He was a priest and “overseer of artisans” at the Temple of Amun in Thebes. He suffered from dental decay and spinal issues. He was around 50 when he died and was embalmed.
Initially, Gibbons, among others, believed that the female was Djed-Mut-iu-es-ankh; however, her skull is housed at Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania. At some unknown time, this 13.5-15.5-year-old female was placed inside the other’s case. Even though she is better preserved, little is known about her.
More has been discovered about George Gliddon. Some Edgar Allan Poe scholars have theorized that Gliddon was the inspiration for Doctor Ponnonner in Poe’s satirical short story “Some Words with a Mummy,” first published in April 1945. The main character procured a mummy and plans to unwrap it at his home in front a of few friends in the name of “scientific discovery.” The inept doctor instead revives the mummy they christen Allamistakeo. The story centers around Egyptian mummy mania that captured the imaginations of people in Europe and the United States.
Tragedy did not escape Gliddon in real life. He abandoned his research in Egyptology and shifted, instead, to proving polygenism, the belief that each race came from a distinct, individual source. (It is racist conjecture and shunned by science and scientific communities) Gliddon was in Panama in 1857 where he contracted Yellow Fever. He died before reaching the age of 50.
Ultimately, the Tulane mummies are more interesting. While visiting the university, I will attempt to visit them. I’ll post images if I am successful.
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